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On Faith.

Brother Beebe: - I thought my pen was nearly laid by, excepting for private correspondence. I had concluded the readers of the Signs were tired of discussions; and nothing of a different class seemed to present itself to my mind. But brother Johnson's request through the Signs for my views of Heb.11:1, affords an occasion for again writing, which I readily embrace. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Heb.11:1

The Apostle having in the preceding part of this epistle drawn a comparison and a contrast between the carnal things of the earthly or typical dispensation, and the spiritual things of the anti-typical or heavenly dispensation, comes in this 11th chapter to describe that faith by which these spiritual things are known and received in distinction from our natural faculties, by which those carnal ceremonies were apprehended. He commences his description of faith with the position laid down in our text, and then illustrates it by showing its power as exemplified in the experience of the ancient worthies.

Whether we consider the faith here described, in its special relation to the spiritual things of the gospel, as contrasted with the carnal ceremonies of the law, or as exemplified in the experience of the patriarchs, or in the position laid down in the text before us, we must in either case arrive at the conclusion that, it is a spiritual exercise, and as distinct from natural belief, as are the spiritual truths of the gospel from the external ordinances of the law. The requisitions of the law upon national Israel as such, consisting only in the letter, could be taught by parents to their children, and were required so to be taught; and therefore could be understood by their natural faculties, and be believed as their natural judgments were enlightened. But the knowledge of the truths of the gospel in their spirituality, is not imparted by, nor received from human instruction. Even after all the oral instruction which Christ had given His disciples while in the flesh, He had, after His resurrection, to open their understanding that they might understand the scriptures; that is, in their application to Him. Luke 24:45. And before this, when Peter declared his faith in Christ as the Son of God; Jesus said unto him, Blessed art thou Simon Barjonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven; thus showing this knowledge of Jesus, was not science, but direct revelation from the Father. Hence Paul says, "No man can say Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Ghost." I Cor.12:3. See also Paul's own experience in the case. Gal.1:11,12. But why multiply proofs on this point? For after all that men may do, in their attempts to carnalize the gospel so as to make it a subject for human instruction, the testimony of God will stand sure, that, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God," and that, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the things of the kingdom of God." I Cor.2:14 & John 3:3.

But to the Apostle's position: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, &c. What are the things hoped for? They are the perfect deliverance from sin &c., which is promised to the saints. Or they may be any particular instance of a promise, applied to us, like the special promise which God made to Abraham. Gen.15:5, 6. There are many things which we at times hope for, which have no substance but in our imaginations, for God has never promised them to us, and consequently, with such, faith hath nothing to do. Faith is the substance of those things hoped for, that is, with a true gospel hope. The word here translated substance is different from the word so rendered in the tenth chapter and 34th verse. The lexicons give an explanation to this word evidently with reference to its use here, as meaning to be present to the mind; that is, to be seen or felt by the mind, as natural substances are seen or felt by the outward senses. It seems explained as by contrast, by chapter 10:1 - "The law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things," &c. That is, the legal ceremonies could only present a shadow of spiritual things, and therefore left the comers thereunto without an actual sense of their sins being cleared away as before God; or as the Apostle says, could not make them perfect. It is true, faith, in those who had it, gave them the assurance that there was a substance thus shadowed forth, and therefore gave them hope of acceptance with God. Now, instead of this shadowy, imperfect view, faith under the gospel, presents to the believer the salvation of sinners, as finished in Christ Jesus, and also, all the promises of God as flowing through Him, and as being in Him yea, and Amen.

Thus through faith the believer rests in this salvation, and these promises as solid substances. Again, the Apostle describes this faith by another mode of expression, namely as: The evidence of things not seen. Things hoped for, are things not seen, for what a man seeth why doth he yet hope for? Rom.8:24. These are things spiritual and not apprehended by the natural senses; but faith being the substance of them, is the evidence of their reality to the mind; and it is also the evidence of our enjoying them, as it apprehends and gives us the assurance of the faithfulness of God, in bestowing what He has promised in Christ. So clear and decisive, is the evidence of faith in such cases, that wherein it is in exercise all doubt is removed.

Now the faith that can do this, that can present unseen things to the mind, and constrain the mind to rest upon them as present realities, must be a living principle, and possess a power independent of anything belonging to the natural mind. It is very different from that belief which is an exercise of the natural mind, and which is produced by instruction, or external evidence, acting upon the mind and convincing the judgment of the truth of the thing. Hereby we may be assisted in drawing the distinction between the living and dead faith, in their essences, which James speaks of. {James chapter 2}. That the dead faith, cannot be the faith which is of the operation of God, I think every child of grace will admit. Of course, it can be nothing more than an exercise of the natural mind. The living faith has, as already noticed, a controlling power over the mind, bringing it with all its powers into submission, to the will of God; but natural belief being but an exercise of the mind, produced by the exercise of other faculties of the mind, has of course no necessary control over the mind; though it may influence the mind to determine on action. Thus two persons may each be led by conclusive evidence, to believe that he has an estate left him in England; the one may be influenced by his belief to take measures to obtain his, whilst the other, from other considerations, may altogether neglect his. What is commonly called belief, that is, of the natural mind, is of two kinds. One is a mere passive assent to the truth of a thing. It is a belief arising from education, or produced by the declarations of others, without their ever investigating the subject, or judging for themselves. This has no claim to the name of faith; yet a little examination will convince any one, that on the subject of religion, this is all the faith which the greater production of professors have claim to; they being in their religious characters either the mere creatures of education, or the dupes of artful priests.

Again, there are others, who are accustomed to investigating subjects for themselves; and who have thus investigated the subject of religion, and what they believe concerning it, they believe because according to the light they have, or use, their judgments are convinced of the truth of it. This is often mistaken for true gospel faith, and yet it is only a belief produced by the exercise of the rational faculties. This was the faith with which Simon believed, from seeing the miracles performed by Philip, {Acts 8:5- 13,} and with which many believed, from seeing the miracles of Christ. This is the faith which the Campbellites claim as the gospel faith; though many of those they baptize evidently have nothing more than the passive belief before described. This rational faith may influence to many things called religious works. Yea, it may influence to a regular attention to the outward performances enjoined upon believers by the New Testament; such as a submission to the ordinances, and order of the gospel. It may lead to a bestowing of their goods to feed the poor, and to meet persecution, and a giving of their bodies to be burned. I Cor.13:3. Or a person may have this faith, and yet not be influenced by it in his life, or to any act of religious obedience, or separation from the world. But whatever effect it may have upon the outward life, it is still nothing but a dead faith. It has no spiritual life, and therefore produces no spiritual action, nor makes any true application of the consolations of the gospel. It is an exercise of the powers of the natural man, and, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." I Cor. 2:14. It knows nothing of resting, with the depravity and vileness of our hearts in view, upon Christ for full salvation. It knows nothing of a going out of heart in love to a poor sinner, because he has such a discovery of the awful depravity of his heart as to have lost all confidence in his own exertions, nor because it discovers that his hope is fixed alone on Christ for salvation. It may produce a love to sinners because it discovers them engaged on the subject of religion, or because it sees them conforming in doctrine and practice to particular views of religion. It knows not the sealing of the Spirit of God, whereby believers are sealed with the spirit of adoption, and are led to approach God with that confidence with which a child approaches its parent. Neither does it know anything of resting upon the promises of God, excepting as we can discover some supposed ground in us, or outwardly, why we should hope for the thing promised. The child of grace, though probably he is at no time without some traces of the actings of a living faith in Him, yet has much of this dead faith blended in his exercises, and which he often mistakes for the only faith he has; and finding it to want that power which in the New Testament is ascribed to true faith, he at times, concludes that he has been altogether deceived in himself. In most cases, the child of grace has this dead faith to a much fuller extent, than any unregenerated person can have it; from his being led through the teachings of the Holy Spirit, to a fuller and more intimate acquaintance with the truths of divine revelation. Hence it is that we frequently find the child of grace under disappointments, and afflictions of various kinds, complaining of a want of submission and reconciliation of mind to God's dealings with them.

Tell them, God is doing it in wisdom, and love, they will reply, "We believe it, and know we ought to be submissive, but we cannot bring our stubborn minds to it;" which shows this belief to be but a dead faith. Were the Holy Spirit to bring their living faith into exercise, in relation to this dispensation of God toward them, it would present to their minds such a feeling sense of the goodness of God, as revealed to it, that their minds would be brought at once, into patient and cheerful submission to His will.

Again, our minds are frequently led to contemplate some particular promise, we see how appropriate it is to our case, and we have heretofore been enabled by a living faith so to apprehend Christ Jesus as the end of the law for righteousness, and as the medium of gracious communications between God and poor, vile sinners like ourselves, that we believe, unworthy as we are, that we may hope for an interest in it, and do believe that it will be verified, and yet this belief does not enable us to exercise that comfortable reliance on it, and that patient waiting for it, which we desire. Now if the Holy Spirit were to lead us to exercise faith in reference to that promise, or in other words, were He to apply the promise with power to us, we should receive it at once as the word of the living God, and all the powers of our mind would be made to rejoice in it as ours, and to admire the goodness of God in it, and to realize in sweet anticipation, the gracious fulfillment of it.

Thus brethren, I think, by a little attention to their experience, may readily trace, in this case, and in reference to the preached word, and to the various dealings of God with them, a manifest distinction between these two kinds of faith, as exemplified in them. Many of the children of God, at this day, I have no doubt, go for years, without any special exercise of this living faith; other than in its exercise towards the one great object which is necessary to their being known as believers, namely: its exercise in apprehending the blood and righteousness of Christ, as our plea at the throne of grace, and the ground of our hope of acceptance with God. But the inquiry may further be made, Whence is this living faith, and how is it brought into exercise? It is a spiritual exercise, as before shown, and can therefore be the actings only of the spiritual life of the believer.

This life, although implanted in the soul, is not subject to the control of the natural mind, and therefore cannot be called into exercise at our will. As its being brought into existence in the soul is not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of men, but of God, it is the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, who alone controls its action, in faith. It is itself love to God, and to holiness, and therefore from its indwelling in us, we are made to feel a going out of love to God, to His ways, and to His people, and a corresponding loathing of sin and ourselves on account of it. But the Holy Ghost, who knoweth the will of God, knoweth when to call forth the exercises of faith to apprehend Christ as our salvation, and when to lay hold of any special promise, or any unfoldings of the Scriptures; and when, through our faith, to make intercession for us in prayer, according to the will of God, and He only knows, and therefore has never left the exercise of our faith, to the control of our wills. Or perhaps a more correct illustration of this point, is this: Faith must have an object to be believed, set before it. The word of God is the proper object of faith. And by the word of God, I do not understand the scriptures, as such, although they are the proper standard by which to know what is the word of God; but I mean by it, the special application of some portion of scripture to us as a promise, a command, a consolation, or as instruction in doctrine or practice, so that we receive it as the word of God, entering our hearts with power. Now as the scriptures are thus applied by the Holy Spirit, faith is called forth and we believe. Thus when the revelation of Christ Jesus is made to the regenerated person, then he believes, and cannot before.

Again, by the illustration which the Apostle gives of this faith in the following part of the chapter, it is evident its exercise is what we call grace, when he says, "Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness," &c. verses 33 & 34. We in similar cases, would say, the grace of God enabled them to do it, and we should say right, and yet it was through being enabled to exercise faith in God, and in His word, that they were strengthened to endure that to which they were called. Now as the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God, {I Cor.2:10,} He as the Comforter knoweth when the exercise of faith is needed, and in such cases in faithfulness brings it into exercise, and not otherwise. Hence the early disciples who were called to meet persecution, were full of faith. Most of believers when called to depart have faith given them as a shield in the conflict with death. And how often do we see those christians who are much afflicted manifest stronger and clearer faith than others, not so called to suffer. And thus when it is the pleasure of God to bestow some special blessing upon any of His children, He gives them to ask for it in faith frequently, and when we so ask we have the assurance of His hearing us, and therefore of receiving what we ask. See I John 5:14,15. If the Lord is withholding from many of His children, at this day, those special exercises of faith, which to us would be desirable, it is in chastisement, or because in His present dispensation towards His church, He sees it not required. Though really it would seem to us that we have need with the Apostles to pray: "Lord, increase our faith." Luke 17:5.

I fear I have not done full justice to this subject. I have advanced some ideas which may appear new. But experienced christians will know whether they accord with christian experience or not. If they do not, reject them. I have been led sometimes, since I commenced writing this, to doubt whether I know anything as I ought to know. Not whether I know anything, but whether I have that clear knowledge of it, which I ought to have; and this from the little experience we have of those special acts of living faith. Yours in a hope of salvation,

Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia,
Feb. 13, 1845.
S. Trott.
From: SIGNS of the TIMES: Vol 13 (1845)

Select Works of Elder Samuel Trott
pgs. 316 - 323